Marco’s Mantra Backfires

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Marco’s Mantra Backfires on Wednesday, February 10, 2016.

The Greeks had a word for it: anaphora, or the repetition of a word or set of words or phrases in a speech to create emphasis. Also known as a mantra, many famous modern orators have employed this technique. Reverend Martin Luther King, in his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, used the title phrase 16 times. Abraham Lincoln used repetition, and so did Sir Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

Politicians today, pressured by the media, have resorted to generating repetitive sound bites or talking points to sell their campaigns. Marco Rubio, tried to create a mantra too, but he tried too hard, and it backfired on him.

Forty-eight hours before last night’s Republican primary election in New Hampshire, the articulate first-term senator’s star was on the rise. Despite Donald Trump’s dominance in the polls, Mr. Rubio was seen as the ultimate great white hope of the establishment of the Republican Party. He’s young, he performed well in the previous debates and, primarily, he, of all the candidates, ran best against Hillary Clinton in the public opinion polls. As a result, he had a very strong finish in last week’s Iowa Caucuses, finishing in third place, close on the heels of Mr. Trump and winner Ted Cruz.

But then, on Saturday night, Mr. Rubio took to the stage in New Hampshire to debate his competitors for the Republican presidential nomination and ran into a buzz saw named Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor went after Mr. Rubio for his propensity for canned sound bites.

Early in the debate, in response to a question from the moderator about his qualifications, Mr. Rubio waved his own flag and then concluded his answer saying:

And let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. 

Mr. Christie challenged Mr. Rubio, who counter-challenged and then concluded his statement saying: “But I would add this. Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”

To which Mr. Christie replied: “… and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.”

Again Mr. Rubio countered and then concluded his challenge saying:“Here’s the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”

Mr. Christie mocked, “There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.”

Adding insult to injury, YouTube strung all the repetitive statements together in a 36-second montage that has been viewed more than a million times.

A tidal wave of commentary, criticism, ridicule and notoriety came crashing down on Mr. Rubio and left him in fifth place in last night’s voting, behind not only Iowa front runners Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz but also trailing John Kasich and Jeb Bush whom Mr. Rubio has led until now.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote the sad epitaph:

Exit polls left little doubt that Rubio’s glitches ruined his prospects in New Hampshire. Two-thirds said the debates were important, and of the nearly half of GOP voters who made choices in the last few days, Kasich did far better than Rubio.

 Mantras are like fine wine: too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Marco’s Mantra Backfires on Wednesday, February 10, 2016.